An Herb by Any Other Name
By Sabrina Jeffries, Author of Who Wants to Marry a Duke
Miss Olivia Norley, the heroine in my latest novel, Who Wants to Marry a Duke, is a chemist. (It’s not as farfetched as it might seem upon first consideration—I based this character on Mrs. Fulhame, a famous female chemist in the early nineteenth century.)
At one point in the book, the hero asks Olivia jokingly if she needs eye of newt, and her response is “Why would I?” Only later does she explain that her bewilderment stems from the fact that the most famous reference to “eye of newt,” the toil and trouble witches’ scene in Macbeth, doesn’t have to do with the eyes of a salamander, but is, in fact, a reference to mustard seed.
In the course of my research, I discovered that nearly every wicked ingredient listed in the toil and trouble scene is the common name for a far more mundane herb. “Toe of frog” is buttercup, “tongue of dog” is hounds-tongue (an herb we Americans also call wild comfrey), “wool of bat” is holly leaves, “adder’s fork” is adders-tongue (a type of fern), “tooth of wolf” is wolf ’s-bane (also called monkshood, which was used both medicinally and as a poison), and “lizard’s leg” is said to be ivy.
Shakespeare deliberately chooses the most macabre-sounding items—just as healers did to hide the true nature of their recipes—to add to the scary impression of the scene. But most of the ingredients mentioned could be found in any good medicinal herb garden.
Indeed, there were multiple names for a variety of plants, just as there are still various names for many treasures in our modern gardens. I happen to have a clematis plant in my yard, but there is a particular English variety of clematis that is also called “old man’s beard.” Imagine what Macbeth’s witches might have done with that! It may not sound frightening, but it doesn’t sound medicinal, either. And that was the purpose. Using these dark names for herbs enabled healers and herbalists to hide their recipes for various medicinal concoctions so that people in need of their services wouldn’t try to make their own.
Sabrina Jeffries is the New York Times best-selling author of more than 50 novels and works of short fiction (some written under the pseudonyms Deborah Martin and Deborah Nicholas). She has over 9 million books in print in more than 21 languages. Time not spent writing is spent traveling with her husband and son or indulging in one of her passions: puzzles, music, and chocolate. Visit Sabrina online at SabrinaJeffries.com or on the social media platforms below.
Step-siblings in search of the truth about their mother’s succession of beloved husbands—and their own surprising identities as eligible young nobles—are the endearing stars of this dazzling series from New York Times bestselling author Sabrina Jeffries . . .
A past kiss with adorably bookish Miss Olivia Norley should be barely a memory for Marlowe Drake, the Duke of Thornstock. After all, there are countless debutantes for a handsome rakehell to charm beyond a young lady whose singular passion is chemistry—of the laboratory type. But Thorn has not forgotten—or forgiven—the shocking blackmail scheme sparked by that single kiss, or the damage caused to both their names. Now Thorn’s half-brother, Grey, has hired the brilliant Miss Norley for her scientific expertise in solving a troubling family mystery. And the once-burned Thorn, suspicious of her true motives, vows to follow her every move.
For Olivia, determining whether arsenic poisoning killed Grey’s father is the pioneering experiment that could make her career—and Thorn’s constant presence is merely a distraction. But someone has explosive plans to derail her search. Soon the most unexpected discovery is the caring nature of the reputed scoundrel beside her—and the electricity it ignites between them.